Netflix recently debuted the show “Atypical,” a story about Sam, an 18 year old high school student on the autism spectrum who wishes to be in a romantic relationship. ‘I haven’t watched it but will,’ says Karen Collier, a Connecticut parent whose still battling a complicated educational system for her 15-year-old 8th grader. ‘Its been a long haul just to get him services and get him to have success socially and in school. I’m not even ready for dating, but I realize it’s coming.’ People on the spectrum dating has often been depicted as a topic of curiosity in modern media – from TV dramas like Parenthood to sitcoms like the Big Bang Theory. Most parents have a mixed opinion of autism characters. In our poll of 362 parents of children on the spectrum last year, 73% said they don’t watch for advice nor do they consider their own situation accurately depicted, but they do acknowledge that there’s more good than bad to come from autism roles on TV. ‘I think the comedies are funny if you don’t have a kid on the spectrum and I think the dramas are sometimes hitting too close to home for me,’ Patrick Feller of New Jersey said. Netflix’s show has a simple goal to showcase what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum using humor. Sam’s parents struggle. His distant father (played by Michael Rapaport) is ashamed of his autistic son, and his “do-it-all” mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) struggles with her identity–a feeling shared by more than 90% of moms surveyed who say they become caretaker, educator and advocate, but less and less a wife. Less of individual with a life outside the autism bubble. Sam, played by Keir Gilchrist, talks in a monotone voice and cannot understand most jokes or common social cues. Sam takes everything very literally and has a hard time differentiating when people are upset with him. He has obsession tendencies, and in particular, is obsessed with the Antarctic tundra and all of the creatures who inhabit it, especially penguins. He relates everything in his life back to penguins, so much so is that it becomes a humorous if not at times uncomfortable theme. In one scene, Sam is romantically rejected by his therapist and is eventually heartbroken. The show goes into issues that others have not. It’s not just hinting at a character with autism, it’s tackling the family dynamics head on. ‘Atypical’ was quickly picked up again for a season 2 on Netflix.
-Erin O’Donnell, Staff Writer